* Says Alfa Bank has asked for $150 mln repayment early
* Says in talks with state-owned bank on refinancing
* Mechel should repay $1 bln of debt this year
* Shares down 9 pct in Moscow, underperforming index
(Adds details, comments from official, source)
By Darya Korsunskaya
MOSCOW, March 14 Russia may again have to step
in to help coal and steel group Mechel after
the country's largest private bank asked for the early repayment
of a $150 million loan.
Just three months after agreeing easier debt terms to give
it breathing space to turn itself round, businessman Igor
Zyuzin's Mechel is again at the centre of frantic talks to make
sure the employer of more than 80,000 people does not go bust.
Showing the importance of the steelmaker, which operates in
11 Russian regions, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov held
a meeting to discuss Mechel's situation on Thursday.
The ministry "will look for assistance to resolve the
situation," Siluanov told reporters on Friday in response to a
question about how the government would help Mechel after the
company said Alfa Bank had called in a $150 million debt early.
He declined to provide details.
Mechel said on Friday it was in talks with Alfa Bank and
discussing debt refinancing with several banks, including
state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB). It did not elaborate and Alfa
Bank was not able to provide an immediate comment.
State banks have already helped refinance or restructure the
company's loans. According to the Vedomosti newspaper, the
government is looking at the option of providing Mechel with a
$2 billion loan from VEB.
Like many other large metals and mining companies, Mechel
invested heavily in expansion before the 2008 financial crisis
"There is no catastrophe ... There are problems, of course,
but they are medium-term problems," a source, who had attended
the meeting with Siluanov, told Reuters.
Alfa Bank's demand was unexpected and announced during the
meeting with Siluanov. A one week extension on its loan to
Mechel was agreed until March 21, Vedomosti reported, citing
sources close to both sides.
"If the company fails to agree on the repayment at the
previously agreed time (June-July 2014), Mechel will fulfil all
its obligations to the bank and will repay the loan ahead of
schedule," Mechel's press-service said in an emailed comment.
Its shares were down 8.8 percent in Moscow by 1205 GMT,
underperforming Russia's main stock index, which was 1.9
percent lower ahead of a referendum in Crimea that is expected
to provoke western sanctions against Russia.
Mechel had net debt of $9.4 billion as of late 2013 and
should repay $1 billion this year, including $500 million to
Russian state-controlled bank VTB. It posted a net
loss of $2.2 billion for the first nine months of 2013 due to
Mechel's market value has lost more than 40 percent in
Moscow and more than 30 percent in New York since the
start of 2014. The company has previously blamed a part of the
slump on speculation.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Additional reporting by
Svetlana Burmistrova, Polina Devitt and Andrey Kuzmin; Writing
by Polina Devitt; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Mark Potter)